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Jewels of the Mallows

September 29, 2010

The iridescent chartreuse, cinnabar red, and tangerine beetles in the accompanying photo are all the same species, Calligrapha serpentina. They’re members of the leaf beetle family, Chrysomelidae, and are a common sight in early fall on their food plant, Narrowleaf Globemallow, Sphaeralcea angustifolia.

The adult beetles emerge from the pupal stage (eclose, if you want to get technical about it) flamboyantly adorned in vermilion. Over about a week, the red is gradually replaced by equally dazzling yellow-green that looks like the metal-flake paint job on a custom hot rod. The exquisite black “calligraphy” on the wing covers that gives them their genus name remains unchanged through this transformation.

Earlier in the season on these same plants, you’ll find lumpy clumps of black fuzz, clusters of “ugly duckling” larvae that will turn into these six-legged “swans.” One of the coolest things about these very cool beetles is that the larvae mount a coordinated defense with synchronized twitching. When threatened, all members of the cluster twitch at once, making the group look like one much larger, scarier beast. –SW

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